The Manager Who Thought He Could Create a Community

In my practice, I see many people who are tackling challenges within the collaborative process.  Frequently people want to work with communities, yet are struggling with one aspect or another.

I had a meeting today with a manager who thought he could create a community.  He was troubled that the community didn’t really work well.  It really made him angry.

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Creation

Now, you might ask yourself, how in the world can a man create a community?  Aren’t communities made of people?  Aren’t they voluntary?  Don’t they form when people gather together and interact with one another voluntarily based on something they have in common and actually recognize themselves as members of a persistent group?  Yes, of course.

So, I asked the man, how did he do it?  He showed me.

As I watched over his shoulder, he did the most amazing thing.  He opened his laptop, sat down at the keyboard, launched his browser, and went to a web site.  At the web site, he clicked a button, which launched a form.  After filling out the form and submitting it, the web page showed the name he had chosen for the community at the top of blank page.  He then clicked some more buttons and uploaded a file to the web site.  When I asked him what was in the file, he explained that it was a list of internet IDs.

After the internet IDs were processed my this web application, he sat back, pointed at the screen, smiled, and proclaimed that he had just created a community, just like he had previously.  “Is this all you did?” I asked.  Of course, not, he explained.  He had also assigned someone to manage the community.  His major frustration was that the assigned community manager hadn’t taken his role seriously.

So, we talked a bit about the concept of communities… about voluntary membership and participation… about the self-selecting nature of the membership itself… about the need for leaders to self-select from within the membership and identify their own topics.  This is a typical flow of discussion, which, when given enough time and insight, eventually changes a person’s entire outlook… from manager to gardener.  Communities form and emerge naturally.  They can be encouraged and facilitated; But they can’t be engineered and determined.

A man can no more create a community by filling out a form on a webpage than he can make a fruit tree by taping fruit to twigs and twigs to a stump.

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11 comments

  1. Thanks Matt, for this ‘story’ that brings to life some of the very issues we all face in the world of community building. You have done so in a way that hits us all right in the face: It is not the technology that makes a community….it is the behaviors of the people who comprise the membership. Great job Matt

  2. Thanks, Bill. This is an old old story too. I added a bit of Oliver Sacks voice for flair.

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